Snoop Dogg’s video for “Lavender” — in which the rapper shoots a clown-faced Donald Trump with a toy gun — has certainly drawn its share of criticism. But is it illegal?
President Donald Trump himself certainly suggested it could be early Wednesday, when he tweeted, “Can you imagine what the outcry would be if @SnoopDogg, failing career and all, had aimed and fired the gun at President Obama? Jail time!”
Can you imagine what the outcry would be if @SnoopDogg, failing career and all, had aimed and fired the gun at President Obama? Jail time!
– Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 15, 2017
But shocking as it might seem, it appears that Trump might have been overstating things, just this once.
“It has to be a credible threat,” Bryan Sullivan, a partner at the Early Sullivan Wright Gizer & McRae law firm, told TheWrap.
In Sullivan’s estimation, the “Lavender” video falls far short of posing a credible threat. With the Trump stand-in bearing the fictional name “Ronald Krump” and the gun Snoop fires dispensing a flag that reads “Bang” instead of a bullet — let alone all the clown makeup — the video falls under parody, Sullivan noted, an expression of speech protected under the First Amendment.
While, theoretically, someone in the Department of Justice with a serious ax to grind could try to bring charges against the rapper, they wouldn’t get far.
Sullivan points to the case Watts v. United States, in which a man was convicted for saying that if he were drafted into the Army and made to carry a rifle, “the first man I want to get in my sights is LBJ..” The U.S. Supreme Court reversed the conviction in 1969, finding that the comment was “a kind of very crude offensive method of stating a political opposition to the President.”
That decision places jokes about shooting the president — which “Lavender” seems to be a pretty clear example of — within the realm of protected speech, Sullivan said.
The applicable offense in such cases, the aptly titled Threatening the President of the United States, is a class E felony, which carries a sentence of less than five years but more than a year.
But it’s unlikely Snoop Dogg will ever see a courtroom, let alone a prison cell, over the incident, in Sullivan’s estimation.
On Wednesday, a spokesman for the U.S. Secret Service, which investigates suspected violations of that law, told TheWrap that the agency is “aware of” the “Lavender” video.
However, it is unclear whether the agency is investigating or planning to investigate the video, as the Secret Service spokesman said that the agency had no further public comment on the matter at this time.